Well folks, Sanj and I are a week into our latest (and hopefully final) stage of producing Tommy Eye's forthcoming album 'The Fall of Icarus'. Here's a taste of what we've been up to and some thoughts on the nature of pop production that have been taking shape recently...
This past week saw us experimenting with a relay style approach, with me doing the day shift, and Sanj taking over for the evening. In that way we ended up covering a lot of ground, and still with the benefit of two pairs of ears - just not simultaneously.
It's a strangely effective way to work - not something I'd want to do all the time - but it means that when one of you tries something out, the other comes to it totally fresh later on, and is afforded a much fresher perspective on whatever it is that's been tried. Most of the time, it's repeated listenings that dull your appreciation of whether something really works or not, so this way, we're hoping that it takes less time to find the perfect arrangement and mix for each of the album's tunes.
And whilst we're on that topic of tunes, let me reveal a little of what you can expect on the album...There's a huge scope to this project. The main thrust of the album is Tommy's already 'classic' sound of heavy, straight-up hip-hop beats laced with a rock/alternative mid-range - guitars, piano, strings, and overladen with a perfect blend of rap and sung vocal. Overall, we're working hard to convey with seriousness a strong and, at times, sad message, but whilst keeping the music engaging, energised and fun.
It's a tricky balancing act, especially for what is effectively Tommy's debut release. If, overall, you press the seriousness too hard then the album becomes bleak and moody. If too light a touch, you run the risk of losing the message of the album and everything feels trivial and trite.
In many ways, this has been our ongoing lesson as producers foraging into the pop world - how do you present music of substance to a world that appears to demand superficiality? And when music is such a powerful force for influence (as I've previously blogged about here) are people willing to embrace music that sends a message that is contrary to their expectations or beliefs, or in the end, do people simply consume the art they agree with? In the alternative and niche scenes I think the latter is more likely to happen, but in the pop world, which represents an amalgamation of all the most popular music around, I think actually you do have a platform and an audience that will at least give you a chance.
For us, the question is how far can you go before you've blown your opportunity to communicate - when you've come on too thick, and in so doing turned people off?
With Tommy, the thing I admire most about him as an artist is is honesty and that he's the genuine article - in 'Wings' he tells the story of two kids who face neglect and abuse at home, who face an impossibly tough life ahead of them - whose wings have been tied - because of circumstances and situations often beyond their control. But the song is more than just musing on these issues - it's pure observation - because in his day job Tom works with these types of kids. He sees these lives for real, not just on TV.
This I think is the key to the question we've been asking ourselves - if you want to tell a good story that people will listen to, you have to be in the story. Not my words, in fact, but someone else's.
And it helps if your tune has a sick beat, which 'Wings' most certainly does thanks to some classic Sanj drums, a never-to-be-discovered-again slide guitar sound and a mother-load of compression.
But right at the heart of the song is an idea that's bigger than these elements, and that's hopefully what people will hear and respond to.